Exploring your history will help you paint a picture of your future

April 27, 2015

As Dad speaks, his four kids listen closely and hang on his every word. They purse their lips as he shares the story of their grandfather’s split with his inept business partners. They laugh when he makes light of his father’s impulsive business forays. They smile as he describes his intimate relationship with the late family patriarch. They wipe tears from their eyes when he speaks of his brother and business partner, taken so early from his loving family.

Like a seasoned storyteller he weaves the story of Jones Family Enterprises, from its humble beginnings to its near collapse. He goes on to explain the personal tragedies, the breakthroughs and the sheer luck of time and place. His kids beam with pride as he describes today’s growing, vibrant company that will someday be their own.

When the topic changes to tomorrow, Dad, Mom and the young protégés begin to paint a picture of the future using the canvas of the past as their medium. Because they share a heritage, descend from a common source, and have an  inherent attachment to the successes and failures of their family history, they look to the future with the values and principles that are theirs collectively. Even though they each brush with the colours that are individually theirs, the family paints the picture together. Everyone sees clearly where Jones Family Enterprises is going, and each can see themselves in the picture.

As families in business look to the future it is often the past that can help them see the way. While every other variable in the business equation can change, the fundamental values and character of the family seldom does. It is these essential elements that bind a family together and make the family business one of the most powerful forms of business organization.

Finding a common vision of the future is an important technique in helping a family business transition its management and ownership to the next generation. Before looking to the future, however, a family should revisit their past to capture the spirit and drive that made them successful. A journey through time can help a family articulate the core values and fundamental principles that are uniquely theirs.

Each family member active in the business should have input into the vision of the future. The older generation provides the wisdom of experience and a link to the important lessons of the past. The younger generation contributes the energy and optimism that will define the business in its next phase. Together the family crafts a picture of the future they can all see.

In any type of organization change is a challenging process to manage. If all stakeholders feel they have had a say in the eventual outcome, they are more likely to buy in to the change. In the case of a family business, a shared history and a common view of the future can help gain that buy-in. If each member of the family business team pulls in the same direction, the chances of a successful transition to the next generation are increased exponentially.

Brent VanParys, CPA, CA, FEA

Brent VanParys is a Partner of BDO Canada LLP and a Regional Practice Leader of The BDO SuccessCare Program. As a certified Family Enterprise Advisor Brent helps business families work together to build a successful future.

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